The nation's celiac community jumped into action to help get gluten-free food to people affected by 2017 hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in August, 2017, the celiac community jumped into action to help get gluten-free food to people affected by the natural disaster. An impromptu task force was created by members of the Harvard Medical School Celiac Research Program, the National Celiac Association (NCA), the Celiac Community Foundation of Northern California (CCFNC), Gluten Free Watchdog (Tricia Thompson) and Gluten-Free Globetrotter (Erin Smith) to raise funds to help deliver gluten-free food to people in need in Texas.

Leaning on Erin Smith’s experience in developing a swift response in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the group reached out to gluten-free food manufacturers and individuals to aid victims of Hurricane Harvey. The North Texas chapter of the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG) of North America was quick to respond with aid to the people of Houston. Other celiac community groups, including Beyond Celiac and GIG, joined with individuals to promote the effort to get gluten-free food to disaster areas through social media outreach and other efforts.

When Hurricane Irma followed close on Harvey’s heels, fundraising was expanded to include efforts for Florida.

Coordinated Gluten-Free Outreach

When Hurricane Irma followed close on Harvey’s heels, fundraising was expanded to include efforts for Florida. The NCA set up a national donation page, raising nearly $10,000 to help with gluten-free food efforts in Texas and Florida. The NCA’s food bank director, Nicola Harrington, along with Erin Smith and Jennifer Iscol, president of CCFNC, coordinated outreach efforts with food banks, food pantries, gluten-free food companies and celiac community groups.

Natalie Castro, branch manager of the South Florida chapter of GIG, devised a novel way to reach families in need. By contacting school nurses, she identified 32 families in four schools in the hard-hit Florida Keys with children with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Through community support and some help from NCA, Castro provided gluten-free food to elementary, middle and high school students from Key Largo, Marathon and Key West.

The Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital is a member of the Harvard Medical School Celiac Research Program, which also includes the Celiac Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Celiac Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. The group meets monthly to collaborate on research and education efforts, including a celiac disease symposium held every other year in partnership with the NCA.

For more information on the Massachusetts General Hospital research and treatments improving the lives of those with celiac disease and related disorders and how you can help, please contact us.